Have yourself a merry little Christmas… Mrs Peabody’s 2017 recommendations

Here are Mrs. Peabody’s Christmas recommendations for 2017. Drawing on my top reads of the year, this list should contain something to suit even the most well-read crime fiction lover in your life. And don’t forget to treat yourself while you’re at it!

All available from a wonderful independent bookshop near you…

Masako Togawa, The Master Key, trans Simon Cove (Pushkin Vertigo 2017, JAPAN)

Masako Togawa was born in Tokyo and led a rich life as a writer, cabaret performer, nightclub owner and gay icon. The Master Key, her debut, was first published in 1962 and won the Edogawa Rampo Prize. Set in the K Apartments for Ladies (an apartment block similar to the one where the author herself was raised), this off-beat crime novel features an intriguing set of characters – mainly single women hiding secrets, some benign and some criminal. The theft of the master key to all the apartments sets off a sequence of events that disturbs everyone’s equilibrium and risks triggering further crimes. Rich character studies, a 1950s Japanese setting and an original, twist-laden plot deliver high levels of reader satisfaction. Hats off to Pushkin Vertigo for republishing this vintage gem, and to translator Simon Cove for his polished handling of the text. Another Togawa novel, The Lady Killer, is due out next year.

Gunnar Staalesen, Where Roses Never Die, trans. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books 2016, NORWAY)

Where Roses Never Die is the winner of the 2017 Petrona Award. It’s the sixth novel of the famous ‘Varg Veum’ P.I. series to be out in English (set in Bergen on the west coast of Norway), but can easily be read as a standalone. We join private investigator Veum at rock bottom, wallowing in grief and drink, and about to take on a case that will push him to his limits – a cold case whose legal expiry date is drawing near, and which involves the unsolved disappearance of a small girl in 1977. The novel is an elegant fusion of American P.I. conventions and Scandinavian social analysis, but what I really liked was the way the narrative took the reader in an unexpected direction towards the end, delivering an original and convincing denouement.

Thomas Mullen, Darktown (Little, Brown 2016, USA)

Set in Atlanta, Georgia in 1948, Darktown is a murder mystery that also explores a key moment in the city’s history – the first ever induction of eight African American police officers into the Atlanta Police Department. The murder of a young black woman sees two sets of policemen come into uneasy contact with one another: black policemen Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, and white policemen Lionel Dunlow and Denny Rakestraw. Each of their characters is superbly delineated, and adeptly used to unsettle racial stereotypes and easy assumptions. The novel is also a stunning portrait of post-war Atlanta, and opens the reader’s eyes to the dangerous and wearing realities of living in a society where racism is deeply ingrained in all areas of life. An excellent, satisfying read (full Mrs P review here). The second novel in the series Lightning Men, is just out.

Kati Hiekkapelto, The Exiled,  trans David Hackston (Orenda Books 2016, FINLAND)

The Exiled, shortlisted for the 2017 Petrona Award, is the third in the ‘Fekete’ series to be published in English, but makes a good standalone due to its atypical setting – Serbia rather than Finland. We join Finnish police detective Anna Fekete as she visits the Serbian village of her birth to see family and take a holiday. But the discovery of a body pulls her into an investigation that raises a number of questions about her own father’s death decades earlier. As well as exploring the complexities of Fekete’s identity as a Hungarian Serb who has made her life in Finland, this accomplished novel looks with insight and compassion at the discrimination faced by Roma people, and the lot of refugees migrating through Europe.

John le Carré, A Legacy of Spies (Penguin 2017, UK)

As a die-hard le Carré fan, I savoured every word of A Legacy of Spies. The novel opens in the present day, and shows Peter Guillam, George Smiley’s loyal right-hand man, being pulled out of retirement to justify his own and other British Secret Service agents’ actions during the Cold War. Of particular interest are the events surrounding the death of an agent and an innocent civilian – events that will immediately be familiar to readers of The Spy who Came in from the Cold. Not only does le Carré pull off the elegant closing of a literary circle – The Spy was his first major success in 1963 – but he also stays true to his core themes: the moral price and human cost of (maybe) safeguarding the nation. A must for any le Carré fan who hasn’t yet read it. And if your reader has not yet had the pleasure of entering le Carré’s world, then why not treat him or her to The Spy who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy as well (to be read in that order before Legacy).

Jane Harper, The Dry (Little, Brown/Abacus 2017, UK/AUSTRALIA)

The Dry is set in Kiewarra, a small farming community a few hours from Melbourne in south-eastern Australia, which for the past two years has experienced a horrendous drought and sustained financial pressure. Even so, the town’s residents are stunned when Luke Hadler, a respected local farmer, kills his wife and six-year-old son before turning the shotgun on himself. Luke’s childhood friend, Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk, returns to Kiewarra for the funerals, and reluctantly begins to look into the case…and to confront his own troubled relationship with the town. This novel was one of my absolute top reads of the year. The characterization is excellent, the plot is outstanding, and the landscapes and searing heat are brought vividly to life. A gripping police procedural and the first in a series. See the full Mrs P. review here.

Antti Tuomainen, The Man Who Died, trans David Hackston (Orenda Books 2017, FINLAND)

The Man Who Died is a joy from start to finish. It opens with a doctor telling a man he has been systematically poisoned, and that the end is just a matter of time. That man is Jaakko Kaunismaa, a 37-year-old from the small Finnish town of Hamina, who together with his wife Taina exports pine or matsutake mushrooms to the Japanese. Placed in a truly grave situation, Jaakko has to figure out what to do very quickly. The easiest course of action would be for him to give up, but instead he decides to investigate his forthcoming murder with admirable pluck and determination. Comparisons have rightly been drawn between the novel and Fargo: this is a stylish crime caper with lashings of black humour and a lot of heart. A special word of praise too for David Hackston, who also translated The Exile (above). He captures the off-beat humour of the novel perfectly.

Denise Mina, The Long Drop (Harvill Secker 2017, SCOTLAND)

Mina’s The Long Drop, based on the true case of Scottish rapist and murderer Peter Manuel, is a highly original re-telling of the circumstances leading up to his trial in a grimy, rough 1950s Glasgow. What makes the novel stand out is the originality of its storytelling, which expertly weaves together two narrative strands – a long night of drinking by Manuel and William Watt (the husband, father and brother-in-law of three of Manuel’s victims), and Manuel’s trial, which aroused lots of public interest. I found the book unexpectedly gripping, and the quality of the writing and characterization are sublime. Mina doesn’t shy away from describing Manuel’s horrific crimes, but her approach is never salacious, and she provides razor-sharp dissections of masculinity and class along the way.

Elisabeth Herrmann, The Cleaner, trans Bradley Schmidt (Manilla 2017, GERMANY) 

Elisabeth Herrmann’s The Cleaner is a polished, quirky German crime novel that features an outstanding protagonist, Judith Kepler. Judith is a prickly, awkward character who is extremely good at her job, which happens to be cleaning crime scenes for a specialist company in Berlin. As she cleans a flat following a particularly nasty murder, Judith unexpectedly comes across a clue to a mystery in her own East German childhood, and gets entangled in a potentially life-threatening situation. A hybrid detective novel, historical crime novel and thriller, The Cleaner is a gripping and highly engaging read with a wonderfully memorable lead. You may learn some handy cleaning tips along the way as well.

Arnaldur Indriðason, The Shadow District, trans Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker 2017, ICELAND)

I’ve been a big fan of Indriðason’s ‘Erlendur’ series over the years, and so was delighted to hear that the first of his new ‘Reykjavik Wartime Mysteries’ is out in English. The Shadow District interweaves two stories, one from the wartime past and the other from the present. In the first, a young woman is found strangled in Reykjavik’s ‘shadow district’, a rough area of the city. Icelandic detective Flovent investigates the case together with Thorson, a member of the American military police. In the present, retired police detective Konrad gets sucked into the odd case of a 90-year-old man who has been found dead in his apartment. In the course of the narrative, the two timelines begin to overlap in various ways… An absorbing page-turner that doesn’t hesitate to break some genre conventions.

Wishing you all a very happy festive season!

35 thoughts on “Have yourself a merry little Christmas… Mrs Peabody’s 2017 recommendations

  1. Oh, thanks for some great reads – for myself and others 😉 Have yourself a merry little Christmas too, Mrs P.

  2. You’ve offered some great ideas here, Mrs. P.! And a very global selection it is, too, which makes it all the more appealing. Hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

  3. Thank you for this holiday list – always discover great reads and through you The Cleaner! I hope more of her books will be translated. Happy Hols MrsP!

    • Thanks, Angela – wishing you and yours a lovely festive season too. Lots of freezing weather and rain here at the moment, so feeling rather envious of your summer!

  4. A very useful list for me. I have not read any of them. I will be reading the le Carre book in January.

    Merry Christmas to you too.

    • Very glad to hear that the list was useful to you, Tracy. Hope you enjoy Legacy of Spies, and maybe some of the others down the line. Merry Christmas!

  5. Morning Mrs P.
    Now there’s an interesting list of books to delve into, and from so many different countries. I’ve read The Dry thanks to your recommendation, which was excellent BTW and probably my number 1 read for this year. A Legacy of Spies is all ready to go. The Exiled and The Shadow District both appeal as well, especially after having read Indridason’s Jar City several times.
    Wishing you a happy Christmas and New Year.

    • Hello Kathy! My main criteria when putting the list together are quality and variety. I was pleased that there was such a spread of countries (the Japanese novel was a late contender, and I was particularly glad to get that one in).

      Great to hear that you rated The Dry. It’s on pretty much everyone’s best of lists this year, and deservedly so. Let me know what you think of the new Indridason!

      A very Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    • Good to hear, Stella – let me know how you get on! And you’re very welcome – putting the list together is one of my favourite bits of the year ❤

  6. Merry Xmas Mrs P, good list, I’ve ordered ‘The Mine’ from the library, they’ve just ordered Tuomainens latest. Did you catch the Le Carré talk on Sky this week? I recorded it to watch over xmas. The second of the Reykjavik war time mystery’s has been translated, or so it seems, having included a chapter in the 1st one. Strange that only one of his books have been filmed, & that seems a long while ago!
    Well have a good xmas & new year.

    • Hello Brian! Alas, I don’t have Sky, so wasn’t able to catch the maestro in action. I’m hoping it’ll be shown elsewhere at some point. And thanks for the intel about the second Reykjavik mystery – will check that out.

      Quick update on Mindhunter – I started watching the series yesterday as per your recommendation and have now seen the first three episodes. Serial killer stuff is really not my kind of thing, so I did find some of the detail pretty hard to watch, but I really appreciated their approach and what they’re trying to show. Absolutely fascinating to see how the study of serial killer behaviour and psychology was properly systematized. And it’s all very well done. Will keep watching, though not late at night…!!!

      Wishing you and yours a very happy Christmas and a great 2018.

  7. What a fantastic list, and there’s some of my 2018 reading all lined up! The only one of these I’ve read is The Dry, but I’m a fan of Indridason, and I think next year will have to be the year I branch out into Japanese crime. Thank you, and happy Christmas.

    • Thanks, CountryCrime! You’re very welcome – it was such fun to put together. Do let me know how you get on with Indridason and the Japanese crime.

      Wishing you a very happy Christmas!

  8. Oooh super – Le Carre is going top of the list – apart from the writing I loved his article about German earlier in the year!

    • Hi Hilary – le Carre has been so incredibly supportive of German and German studies over the years. He’s right up there in my personal hall of fame.

      Just checking – have you read The Spy who Came in from the Cold? If not, do read it ahead of Legacy of Spies – the latter will be much more resonant then…

  9. Definitely some for my Xmas list. I admired The Dry and like you am a big fan of Indriðason. But lots here that’s new too.
    Have a happy Christmas, Mrs P, and I wish you some great reading in 2018.

  10. Fantastic picks, Mrs.P. Some of these (especially the nordic noir ones) have been on my radar for a long time now. Merry Christmas to you, I hope Santa brought you lots of books.

    • Thanks, Elena! Merry Christmas to you too! Hope you’ve had a good one filled with plenty of bookish cheer. I found Stephen King’s On Writing under the tree, which I’m enjoying hugely. (Spoiler: he knows a lot about writing.)

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